Late summer or early autumn invariably produces some surprises in the garden. This year a beautiful dark orange Clivia miniata with a cream throat suddenly decided to flower; a little pink chameleon was spotted clinging somewhat unsteadily to a little tuft in the White Pear tree; but most surprising of all was the bursting into flower of the Cape Saffron (Cassine peragua) or Bastersaffraan.
This small evergreen tree has been growing slowly and inconspicuously for over 10 years amongst some other small trees and shrubs in our garden without a single sign of a flower. Suddenly, at the end of February, to the delight of the bees, the ends of its branches suddenly became covered with clusters of small white fragrant flowers. Apparently the tree then produces small oval berries which in due course will be enjoyed by birds.
The Cape Saffron usually grows in forests and forest margins, but also in coastal thickets and dune scrub, so clearly feels at home in a mature garden on Leisure Isle. It is tough and wind-tolerant and grows from 2-5 metres tall so is suitable for growing in suburban gardens.
I was interested to read that even the great Swedish botanist, Linnaeus, sometimes made mistakes when naming plants from far off lands – which is what happened when he named our plant ‘the cassine of Paraguay’. Neither description was correct! Firstly the plant did not come from Paraguay. Secondly cassine or cassena refers to a medicinal plant in Carolina, USA (Ilex cassine) as well as a closely related species from Paraguay – (Ilex paraguariensis) drunk as a tea called mate. Both are ancient and medicinal plants. Because of the rules of botanical nomenclature, Linnaeus could not correct his mistake by renaming our plant, as the earliest name remains the legitimate one. The leaves of our Cassine peragua are believed to be toxic, so it would definitely not be a good idea to try making tea from them. The early Cape colonists used the attractive yellowish wood for making furniture and parts of waggons, as well as large ladles – which explains why the tree is sometimes called a Boslepelhout.
Text and photographs: Leonie Twentyman-Jones